By No Vacation Required, on November 12, 2014

Beyond Palm Springs

Palm Springs is smaller than you might think—just about five miles across at it’s widest point. What many people believe to be Palm Springs is actually a series of cities that extend about 30 miles east through the sun-drenched Coachella Valley.

While Palm Springs, with its abundance of mid-century modern architecture and traditional Hollywood cachet, merits all of the attention it gets, several of the surrounding and nearby desert cities deserve to be recognized as well. Here is some information on two communities just outside of Palm Springs, along with a couple of resort options that offer a balance of modern and traditional.

Rancho Mirage

The exclusive city of Rancho Mirage is probably best known for being home to the “Camp David of the West,” the classic Presidential golf retreat called Sunnylands. But the town is also home to some more accessible pleasures, too. For example, perched at the southern edge of the city, where Frank Sinatra Drive ascends into the painted mountains, is The Ritz-Carlton, Rancho Mirage.

This luxury resort’s approach to service is well-established. The staff here are referred to as ladies and gentlemen—old-school monikers that remind you that the Ritz-Carlton formed a culture of service excellence long before most of us ever knew what five-star meant.  

A perfect insight into the blend of modern and traditional can be found at State Fare, the hotel’s new take on classic California cuisine. One of the restaurant’s most popular dishes is the Avocado Fries—ripe and fruity slices of avocado, lightly batter-fried and served with roasted pepper aioli and tomatillo dipping sauces. This decadent appetizer pairs perfectly with a “yuzurac,” a citrusy, tart, and distinctly California take on the New Orleans classic Sazerac.

Ritz Carlton, Rancho Mirage

While enjoying a fireside cocktail or laying around the hillside “adults-only” pool overlooking the valley, you can see a series of trails cut into surrounding mountains. Make sure to head off premises, even for a short time, to take in the area from the vantage of these peaceful desert hikes.

La Quinta

Near the far eastern end of the string of cities that comprise the region is the charming village of La Quinta, which is actually named after the resort that predates it. The quaint town is ringed by the Santa Rosa Mountains, which shift from taupe to pink as the sun moves through the sky.

La Quinta Resort & Club has a vintage Southern California glamor. Since 1920 the hacienda-style resort has served as a tranquil getaway for the well-heeled. Hollywood celebrities likely feel right at home here; the resort is so idyllic that it practically feels like something from the silver screen. Picture-perfect, white adobe casitas and 45 acres of oasis-like grounds (including 41 pools and 52 whirlpool spas) stand in stark contrast to the desert surroundings.

Viewfinder Tip: For a dose of history about architecture in the Palm Springs area, swing by the Palm Springs Visitor Center or sign up for a tour with Palm Springs Modern Tours.

The resort maintains a very classic feel, but that does not mean the amenities are outdated. When you go, opt for the Starlight Casita, because it has ample private outdoor space. Earthy terracotta tiled patios are complemented by shiny stainless steel gas fireplaces, creating a perfect balance of warmth and modernism. The luxurious, crisp white linens are monogrammed with WA to remind you that this is a Waldorf-Astoria property.

You’ll want to explore the surrounding village, but you don’t have to; everything you need for a perfect vacation is on the property: spa, expansive fitness and tennis facilities, golf, and several highly acclaimed restaurants. Adobe Grill serves up classic Mexican dishes and gargantuan margaritas. Order a grande “perfect” margarita with Peligroso Silver Tequila, Cointreau, and fresh-squeezed local citrus. Chow down on some table-side guacamole for a perfect start to the night.

If you’re in the mood for something fancier, try Morgan’s in the Desert. It is hard to go wrong when the menu is created a by a chef who has three James Beard awards under his hat. We fell hard for the fried artichokes. The slightly crispy artichoke hearts come paired with a luscious and pungent smoked-paprika aioli. It’s a dish that will be considered a classic in just a few years.

If you can’t make it to nearby Joshua Tree National Park, you can still get a taste of the park’s natural beauty without leaving La Quinta. Along the perimeter of the city is the five-mile Bear Creek Trail, which provides an excellent running/walking route along the base of the mountains. This stretch of nature feels like just as much of a retreat as the resort to which you’ll return.

Where is your favorite sunny getaway?